Twitter users have been able to label tweets as a “favorite” since very early in the platform’s history. Unlike re-tweets of others’ microblogs, which dissipate into a user’s stream of tweets, favorited tweets are stored in a readily-accessed list. It’s this ability to save a tweet by favoriting it, then, that distinguishes the two functions.
Other than that, though, there’s little difference between the two.
So what does favoriting a tweet mean? Is it something different than choosing to re-tweet it to one’s Twitter followers?
A team of computing researchers at German and British universities have taken a crack at understanding why Twitter users click the star icon and not the circling arrows. They interviewed more than 600 Twitter users about their motivations in using the favorite feature. Of these, roughly two-thirds were even aware of the favoriting feature, and about 290 had actually used it.
Users generally saw the favorite as a non-verbal form of communication. The researchers found that the choice of favoriting tweets fell into two broad motivations: as a reaction or response to a tweet, and with a specific purpose for storing the tweet in mind. Within these two groups, they found 25 different reasons for using the favorite button, from sharing the tweet’s opinion about something to noting its emotional import to bookmarking it for later reference. Users generally saw the favorite as a non-verbal form of communication.
With the favorite feature being put to so many different uses, the researchers conclude that Twitter might consider additional functionality to solve overuse of favoriting. If users are interacting with a feature with two-dozen different purposes in mind then it really doesn’t have a concrete meaning.